Fungal infections: when to see the doctor

How do you know when to see your doctor about a fungal infection?
How do you know when to see your doctor about a fungal infection?

You’ve probably had a fungal infection at some point in your life. But how do you know when to see a doctor about one?

The simple rule to follow is if it spreads, gets worse or is recurrs, see your doctor. 

1. Athlete’s foot

Athlete’s foot is a common fungal infection of the feet. It is also called tinea pedis or ringworm of the foot, and usually affects the spaces between the toes. 
Diagnosis: Athlete’s foot is fairly easy to diagnose – a doctor can confirm it just by looking at your feet. However, your doctor may take a scraping and send it off to be tested.
Prognosis: It can take few weeks to a month before Athlete’s foot responds to treatment. It can also return quite easily if you re-expose your feet to the fungi – wear flip flops in public bathrooms and pools, and keep your feet dry.  
When to see the doctor: Athlete’s foot should clear up within a few weeks of using an antifungal ointment, cream or powder. However, if this doesn’t help, see your doctor. If it starts to spread or you have diabetes, see your doctor immediately. 

Man treating athlete's foot

2. Ringworm

Ringworm appears as an itchy ring-shaped, scaly red or silver rash that can appear anywhere on your body. It is highly contagious and can spread when sharing clothing and towels or brushes, combs and headgear. 
Diagnosis: A doctor can diagnose ringworm based on a medical history and examination of the infected area. Sometimes, further testing on a sample of the infected skin or hair is needed to confirm the diagnosis. 
Prognosis: Ringworm is treated with antifungal medication. You need to continue this treatment for a number of weeks (even if it appears to have cleared up) and take care not to become re-infected.  
When to see the doctor: If ringworm doesn’t clear up after two weeks following treatment, you should see the doctor. Other symptoms that require a doctor’s attention include discharge of pus, fever, the rash gets bigger or spreads, or there is a persistent, severe or recurring infection. 

Ringworm on the body

3. Vaginal Candidiasis (thrush)

Thrush can affect different parts of your body but a vaginal yeast infection is quite common. Normally, candida lives in the body without you noticing it – however, when conditions change, it can multiply out of control, causing an uncomfortable infection. 
Diagnosis: Your doctor can make a diagnosis following a physical examination and taking your medical history. If your doctor suspects there is an underlying medication that increases your risk for thrush (diabetes, cancer or HIV), you may need to go for blood tests.  
Prognosis: You need to stop the growth of the organism that is causing the infection to treat candidiasis. An antifungal topical ointment that is applied directly into the vagina can often cure a yeast infection. 
When to see the doctor: If the infection does not respond to treatment or recurs within a two-month period, you suffer from a chronic illness or weakened immune system, you’re taking medication to suppress your immune system, or you are pregnant, you should see your doctor. 

Woman scratching her crotch

4. Jock itch

This itchy rash in the groin area (usually in the crease between the scrotum and thighs) looks red but has a defined edge. Jock itch is caused by the same fungus that causes athlete’s foot and can spread often spread to other parts of your body. 
Diagnosis: Your doctor can make a diagnosis of jock itch based on the description of your symptoms and your skin’s appearance. 
Prognosis: Fortunately jock itch is easy to treat and highly curable. 
When to see the doctor: If after treating the infection for longer than two weeks with topical treatment and it has not cleared up, you should see your doctor. If you notice that the rash is worsening even with treatment or you are in pain, notice pus or have a fever, don’t put off seeing your doctor – it needs to be assessed by a medical professional.

Man opening his pants

Image credits: iStock

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